Sea of Stories

Dive into India's water cultures

They say humans evolved from fish. The evidence is right there on your face. That little groove connecting your lip to your nose is a philtrum. It serves no purpose except to remind us that a long-ago ancestor once stepped out of the water, and never went back.

Or maybe all we do is find reasons to keep going back. Human civilisation follows our primordial urge to stick close to water. It represents security, community and opportunity. It is a companion on our biggest adventures. It is a reflection that mirrors what we’ve created, both the great innovations and the great injustices.

In the 32nd issue of Spotlight, we explore how our basic human instinct to stay close to the water has shaped Indian culture, art and history. India has for millennia been an important stop on maritime trade routes. This has given rise to the phenomena of the port city, where the boundaries separating inside-outside, us-them have always gotten a bit blurry.

Where we travelled, we took our ideas. Faith has followed in the wake of commerce and new shores brought new believers. Religion validated our relationship with water by making it a symbol of the divine.

But artists won’t let us be comforted by empty symbols, not when so much beauty faces extinction. They remind us that water is an elemental force that we pollute and plunder at our own risk. It’s not too late to turn the tide, suggests Rithika Merchant. In Harvest, A Land of Plenty, the artist imagines a new balance.

Gateways to India

The sea is witness to much that defines India and our port cities are the sentinels of change. Let’s travel to some old and new ports through the Sarmaya collection of maps and engravings and imagine them at the peak of their power

Holy waters

Exploring the cultural and spiritual significance of water in India and around the world

River of Faith

Through the veins of a centuries-old textile art tradition flow the waters of a once-mighty river. Follow the journey of a Mata-ni-Pachedi painting as it takes birth on the banks of the Sabarmati

Memories of the Water Bearer

To a weary traveller or parched soldier in 19th-century India, there was perhaps no sight as welcome as the approach of a bhishti. A quick untwisting of the mouth of the mashaq slung over his shoulder, and cool clear water would splash into a grateful cupped palm.

‘By saving our tigers, we saved our rivers too’

Did you know that most of India's rivers originate in forests? To understand this invisible connection, we interviewed conservationist, naturalist, wildlife photographer and President of the Wildlife Conservation Trust, Dr Anish Andheria

10 interesting facts about Mughal gardens

Mughal emperors considered gardens as one of the most important architectural components of their state—so what made a garden adequately ‘Mughal’? Here are 10 clues

Ripple effect

Two contemporary creators, Zishaan K Latif and Sahil Vasudeva, on how water flows through their filmmaking, photography and music practice